Human Population and Natural Balance

World Human Population Graph

The natural balance of human population if unassisted by today’s modern world of countless safety nets, mass agriculture, modern medicine, and social civility, would be stunning fraction of what it is today.

Today’s world population is nearly 7.5 billion.

100 years ago it was just 1.6 billion.

100 years before that, 1 billion.

2,000 years ago, 200 million.

2000 BC, 27 million.

 
The world population graph shown above might trigger a sense of alarm. And in my opinion it should.

I pretty much fully understand how and why the world population has exploded upwards. However the sudden tremendous growth of late indicates that it isn’t ‘natural’.

 

Human Population Explosion

Why has human population suddenly risen as indicated by the graph shown above?

In my estimation there are a number of reasons.

The Exponential function

While population growth may not be exactly along the exponential function, it seems fairly close.

Here’s a great example how it works. I first read this years ago from an article on PeakProsperity.com and I will summarize it for you:

You’re sitting up in the upper ‘nose bleed’ section of a sports stadium. Imagine that it’s water tight. A single drop of water lands on the field at 1PM. If one minute later 2 drops of water land on the field, and then one minute after that 4 drops, and so on doubles every subsequent minute, how long until the stadium completely fills with water?

Probably a very long time, right? And you would have plenty of time to get out as you notice it slowly rising, right?

The first drop of water lands right in the middle of the field at 1 PM. You only have until 1:49 PM before you drown if you don’t get out! It would take less than 50 minutes to fill the entire stadium.

But here’s where it gets more interesting…
At what time do you think the stadium is still 93% empty?

Answer: At 1:45 PM the stadium is still 93% empty. You only have 4 more minutes to get out!

source: Crash Course Chapter 4: Compounding is the Problem

That’s the thing with exponential growth. It all looks fairly benign until suddenly, it’s not!

As the world population has suddenly shot up 470% during the last 100 years, a lot of sustaining infrastructure is required to keep all these people alive.

Energy (primarily Oil) and Technology are the underlying reasons for all of this recent growth. Technology is a general word. However technology is itself seemingly undergoing a sort of exponential growth. It is enabling the ability for human population growth. But to what extent? Can it keep on going this way?

 

Massive Agriculture

Today in the United States, fewer than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation and only 2 percent of Americans live on a farm.

source: The Dwindling Percentage Of American Family Farms

Of the 1% of farmer occupations, only 9% (of the 1%) represent 75% of ALL FARM REVENUE in the United States. This illustrates how few farms provide the majority of production here in the U.S.

Long gone are the days of many family farms dotted across the countryside. Today, “all our eggs are in one basket” so to speak.

Additionally, today we can acquire food from all over the world.

 

Distribution Channels

Horse and Wagons to Railroads, Container ships, and Airplanes.

Cheap energy and technology have enabled vast distribution channels. There is a constant supply of goods flowing through numerous supply channels across the land, sea, and air. Spanning the globe.

This enables millions upon millions of people to live in highly densely populated regions. The regions themselves cannot support even a minuscule tiny fraction of a percent of those living there. However distribution channels flow into the regions like blood flowing through veins.

Los Angeles region

 

Modern Medicine

The discovery of antibiotics has been a huge factor in the field of medicine and people living longer. It wasn’t until the 1940’s when Penicillin went into mass production.

Think about it. It wasn’t that long ago when an ordinary cut could potentially infect and kill you.

Modern hospitals and medicine have greatly increased the life expectancy of humans and have aided in the growth of human population.

 

Energy

There’s no way any of this could have happened without the mass availability of energy. Oil is today’s primary source. Petroleum is the basis for so many of our products.

Electricity is also the lifeblood of our modern existence. I shouldn’t have to explain the multitude of ways that your modern life is hinged with electricity.

 

The Natural Balance of Human Population

Getting back to the title. So what is the natural balance of human population without today’s modern inventions, technologies, and global distribution?

I don’t know the answer because there are so many variables beyond what I’ve mentioned. However I do ask the question to emphasize that a majority of today’s population would not exist without external systems that keep them alive. To point out that there are systemic risks and for you to consider what they might be.

One guess at a number might be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 billion globally. Back in the 1800’s before most of today’s modern innovation and technology the human population was in the 1 billion range. Many or most people were fairly self sufficient. There were cities of course but it was before the major population spike and before today’s mega cities…

In conclusion, I’m not posting this as a notion of ‘peak population’. Rather I am attempting to use the human population explosion to suggest that there are external systems that must continue to function to keep the 7+ billion alive. And the potential risks thereof. There are actions that we can take to lessen our dependence on those systems.

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